The Forces of Darkness
A Study By
Loyal to the Word


“It is your duty to study to know everything upon the face of the earth, in addition to reading [the scriptures]. We should not only study good, and its effects upon our race, but also evil, and its consequences. …the Lord Almighty has designed us to know all that is in the earth, both the good and the evil, and to learn not only what is in heaven, but what is in hell….”

                                                                                                                                           -Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:93-94, February 6, 1853

“A study of Satan’s methods can alert us to his seductions.”

                                                                                                                    -Ezra Taft Benson, “Satan’s Thrust – Youth,” General Conference, October 1971.

         Among one of the most fascinating yet least understood aspects of the Gospel is the forces of darkness or the kingdom of Satan. The scriptures refer to “death and hell,” as “this awful monster” (2 Ne. 9:10) – and how dreadfully accurate. The unembodied beings that make up the kingdom of the Devil are the most frightening forces imaginable, and rather than being the stuff of myths or legends, these entities are terrifyingly real. They seek to lie and tempt mankind towards evil, as well as to destroy families and create despair. When these forces become concentrated or gain a foothold in a person’s home (or body), serious and frightening occurrences happen. In order to come to a greater understanding of the kingdom of darkness and to learn how to protect against this sort of evil, this article delves into a concise study of the phenomenon using the scriptures, examples from Church History, and a well-respected book, Hostage to the Devil by Malachi Martin, a Catholic priest, and which is an in-depth study of five contemporary documented cases of demonic possession, and researches the phenomenon of evil spirits and diabolical possession rather scientifically and probably better than any other source in existence.


The War in Heaven


         In the preexistence before this world was made, there was a great host of spirits which God had sired, and which lived with Him in a massive family unit. These spirits were the offspring of God and a Heavenly Mother (or Mothers). All people who have ever lived were at this time among their number – this author was there, and so were you, the reader. In this spirit condition, we individuals had developed and progressed as far as our surroundings and personal abilities would allow us under these conditions. “God himself,” the Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “finding he was in the midst of spirits and glory, because he was more intelligent, saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance like himself” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 354). The spirits were to be sent to an earth and into bodies to experience a state of mortality, where experiences and learning could occur as only could under those conditions. Things being as they were, with so many hosts of inept spirits, this plan required a Savior to atone for sins. “Whom shall I send?” was the Father’s rhetorical question (God already knew who was the appropriate Person to send as the Savior). “Here am I, send me,” was the humble but confident answer of the Lord Jehovah, or Jesus Christ, the Firstborn of all the spirits of the Father (Col. 1:15). Jehovah had long by this time already attained to the status of a God without even undergoing a mortal experience, because he had supreme personal integrity, for he was “like unto God” (Abr. 3:24). “Here am I, send me,” was another response, which came perhaps unexpected to the observers gathered, from a prideful upstart named Lucifer (Abr. 3:27). Lucifer had the impressive distinction of being a “son of the morning” (D&C 76:26-27), presumably meaning that he was one of the first spirits to have been born to the Heavenly Parents, and was “an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God” (D&C 76:25). The record continues: “And the Lord said: I will send the first. And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him” (Abr. 3:27-28).

         And so “there was war in heaven: Michael [i.e. Adam, who stood next to Christ in authority (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 157)] and his angels fought against the dragon [i.e. a code name for Lucifer]; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev. 12:7-9).

         What was Lucifer’s objective in this war in heaven? The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “The contention in heaven was – Jesus said there would be certain souls that would not be saved; and the devil said he could save them all, and laid his plans before the grand council, who gave their vote in favor of Jesus Christ” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 357). Undoubtedly Lucifer was unable to follow through with such a promise, but he did lay out the means by which he thought to accomplish such a thing: Lucifer “sought to destroy the agency of man” (Moses 4:3). But control of agency was only a stepping stone in Lucifer’s plan to consolidate his power. The scriptures tell us that Lucifer, “sought…that [God] should give unto him [God’s] own power” (Moses 4:3). God said, “[Lucifer] rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency” (D&C 29:36). That is, Lucifer, because of jealousy and envy, actually sought to dethrone God and take his place as the absolute ruler of the heavens. Lucifer was murderous and power hungry, as the Lord Jesus proclaimed, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him.” (John 8:44). As Isaiah recorded of the event,


How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

(Isaiah 14:12-15).


         Lucifer was able to convince a third of the hosts of heaven, a third of the spirit children of God, to follow him in his maniacal crusade against God. Why would they do such a thing? Certainly because they were of a lower grade of spirits, lacking in morality and spirituality. Not only that, but Lucifer undoubtedly promised them positions of power in his new regime as the new all-powerful authoritarian god. But these promises he could never, and would never, deliver on. “And the great dragon was cast out…into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Rev. 12:9). Satan and the spirits who followed him committed the unpardonable sin because “if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation” (Heb. 10:26-27). They came out in open, destructive rebellion against the God of Love in an effort to obtain power and gratification. After choosing their destiny and being cast out, these spirit beings became devils (otherwise known as demons, unclean spirits, or simply evil entities – terms that are used interchangeably) and Lucifer became the Devil, or Satan, their despotic and tyrannical ruler. They are the basest, most horrid, and most evil beings in existence, and their sole objective is to “[seek]…the misery of all mankind” (2 Ne. 2:18). It is a frightening and sobering fact that these hideous beings are in daily contact with us, although we are usually completely oblivious to their presence (Gospel Principles, 2009 ed., p. 16).


Ghosts vs. Demons


         No doubt some confusion may exist regarding ghosts and demons, with some not understanding the difference between the two or even not believing in one or the other, or both. Ghosts are disembodied spirits of people who have lived on this earth. For instance, when Jesus died, he “gave up the ghost,” (Luke 23:46) that is, his spirit left his mortal body (see also Gen. 25:8, 17; 35:29). Ghosts do exist, obviously, and do sometimes appear to mortals. Oftentimes, however, these ghosts do not appear as ministrants from spirit paradise with a message of the Gospel. Many seem to have their own agenda and are somehow able to appear without authorization from Holy powers. Elder Parley P. Pratt wrote, “Many spirits of the departed, who are unhappy, linger in lonely wretchedness about the earth, and in the air, and especially about their ancient homesteads, and the places rendered dear to them by the memory of the former scenes” (Parley P. Pratt as quoted in Duane S. Crowther, Life Everlasting, p. 115). 

         It seems apparent that oftentimes when these spirits, or ghosts, are seen by people, it is at an attempt to communicate for some purpose. Why would spirits from spirit prison wish to communicate with the mortal world? Perhaps they are confused, or deliberately breaking protocol of the spirit world in making such manifestations. Some spirits are even in denial that they are actually dead for quite some time after they die (see John Grant Fuller’s The Airmen Who Would Not Die). How is it that such a phenomenon as ghostly manifestations occur? It is no doubt because the spirit world is all around us anyway. President Brigham Young taught, “Where is the spirit world? It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes, they do. Do they both inhabit one kingdom? Yes, they do. Do they go to the sun? No. Do they go beyond the boundaries of the organized earth? No, they do not.” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 376). Since the spirit world is on earth, and there are hauntings and appearances of the spirits of the dead, it seems apparent that some attempt is made to linger in the plane of mortality by whatever means possible.

         Demons must be distinguished from ghosts. Demons have never had a body and never will. They were part of the third of the host of heaven that were cast out with Lucifer to become his diabolical angels. As Samuel the Lamanite in the Book of Mormon said of the Nephites, “Behold, we are surrounded by demons, yea, we are encircled about by the angels of him who hath sought to destroy our souls” (Hel. 13:37, emphasis added). The Devil’s (i.e. Satan’s) angels are, of course, those who were cast out of heaven with him, as is proven from scripture: “behold, the devil was before Adam, for he rebelled against me, saying, Give me thine honor, which is my power; and also a third part of the hosts of heaven turned he away from me because of their agency; And they were thrust down, and thus came the devil and his angels” (D&C 29:36-37, emphasis added). Without exception demons are diabolical, mischievous, and dangerous (whereas ghosts may be either well-meaning or malevolent). It is one thing to have a supernatural experience with a ghost, but it is quite a lot more frightening and serious to have a haunting or encounter by a demon.

         That being said, it is also apparent the evil ghosts can cause much of the same types of difficulties that demons do. To quote further from Elder Parley P. Pratt:

Many spirits of the departed, who are unhappy, linger in lonely wretchedness about the earth, and in the air, and especially about their ancient homesteads, and the places rendered dear to them by the memory of former scenes. The more wicked of these are the kind spoken of in Scripture, as “foul spirits,” “unclean spirits,” spirits who afflict persons in the flesh, and engender various diseases in the human system. They will sometimes enter human bodies, and will distract them, throw them into fits, cast them into the water, into the fire, etc. They will trouble them with dreams, nightmare[s], hysterics, fever, etc. They will also deform them in body and in features, by convulsions, cramps, contortions, etc., and will sometimes compel them to utter blasphemies, horrible curses, and even words of other languages. If permitted, they will often cause death. Some of these spirits are [were] adulterous [during mortality], and suggest to the mind all manner of lasciviousness, all kinds of evil thoughts and temptations.

(Parley P. Pratt, Key To The Science Of Theology, 1948, p. 115-116).


         Brigham Young confirmed the negative effects that evil disembodied spirits - ghosts - can have, and the role that they play is very similar to that of demons:

There are myriads of disembodied evil spirits—those who have long ago laid down their bodies here and in the regions round about, among and around us; and they are trying to make us and our children sick, and are trying to destroy us and to tempt us to evil. They will try every possible means they are masters of to draw us aside from the path of righteousness.

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 6:73-74, November 22, 1857).

         Why is it that ghosts or disembodied spirits who have been evil in their lives then take on the function of demons in the spirit world? The reason for this is that such spirits are put in Satans power upon dying. As the scriptures teach, “For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you” (Alma 34:35, emphasis added). We are also told that spirits of those who are evil have been led captive by the will of the devil” (Alma 40:13). Brigham Young confirmed this further when he said:

“And every person who desires and strives to be a Saint is closely watched by fallen spirits that came here when Lucifer fell, and by the spirits of wicked persons who have been here in tabernacles and departed from them, but who are still under the control of the prince of the power of the air. Those spirits are never idle; they are watching every person who wishes to do right, and are continually prompting them to do wrong.”

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 7:239, September 1, 1859, emphasis added).

The Kingdom of the Devil


         What is the kingdom of the Devil like? It is a kingdom of darkness and misery, with its subjects kept in subjection through fear. As pointed out in Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil, it seems apparent that even demons of a lesser status have a paralyzing fear of their superiors to which they are subordinate. One unique form of possessing evil spirit, called a familiar, which can interact with rather than simply control its host, when its host was taking measures to free himself from evil influence, nervously told the man it was possessing, “Jamsie [the man’s name], you know I will have to give an accounting for all this foolishness. I am responsible” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 255).  Soon afterward the man noticed a “Shadow,” or a shadowy entity that was clearly the superior of the lesser possessing familiar spirit, and from which the familiar retreated. At another time, the familiar of the man disappeared out of fear when the man encountered another person who was apparently possessed with a more powerful entity (ibid., p. 279-280).

         While evil spirits are not omniscient (i.e. all-knowing), they sometimes may appear to be so, communicating knowledge of things or acts that are secret for an individual. Malachi Martin refers to this as “telepathic powers about purely religious and moral matters” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 13), in which the evil spirit within a possessed person will suddenly know of secret transgressions of those who are trying to drive it out, and will reveal them to all those who are in company. This has the effect of demoralizing and destroying the spiritual power of the one trying to drive the unclean spirit out. As Martin explains, “Any sin will be used as a weapon” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 16). Those chosen to aid an exorcist during an exorcism must “be prepared to have their darkest secrets screeched in public in front of their companions” (ibid.). How is this possible? How can an evil spirit know of such secret things? Either they have a genuine ability to read minds when it comes to sinful things, or there is an elaborate communication network among the kingdom of the Devil. Probably the former is more likely to account for this strange “telepathic” ability. In either case, it drives home an important caveat: if you are to undertake to confront an unclean spirit, make sure that you are clean.

         Another interesting thing about the kingdom of the Devil is the strange rules, sometimes without any seeming rhyme or reason, by which the evil spirits must abide. This is a point that was made quite clearly in Martin’s Hostage to the Devil, that while evil spirits can manifest great power and do inhuman things, there are inexplicable boundaries to things that they can do which would seem quite simple. For instance, the Catholic priests, as part of their exorcism process, will attempt to extract the name which the evil spirit goes by, in order to gain power over it. Why would the evil spirits, knowing this, ever consent to giving their names? Yet they do. The Lord has given instruction in Section 129 of the Doctrine & Covenants about detecting false spirits, which involves requiring a handshake from the spirit. Why would evil spirits comply with the arrangements, no doubt knowing that they would thereby be detected? Yet they will. Why may evil spirits manifest power in one environment and not another, or in one person and not another? As the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “It would seem also, that wicked spirits have their bounds, limits, and laws by which they are governed or controlled, and know their future destiny” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 208).


Evil Spirits Are Not All Alike


         What may be very interesting for many is actually the obvious fact that not all evil spirits are the same. In the preexistence, prior to being cast out of heaven, these spirits were all individuals with unique traits. Now that they are fallen from heaven, though they are united by a common sinister purpose, they still retain some differences from each other.

         This was made very clear in Hostage to the Devil. Some unclean spirits were very focused on sexuality, others more so on various false doctrines. In fact, each evil spirit seemed to preach its own unique brand of false teaching, all of which would be familiar to us as a consequence of living in this modern world and hearing its various philosophies. The one common denominator was that their teachings were always very confusing, yet well and long thought out. The evil entity in one of the cases, speaking through the possessed person, taught the doctrine of moral relativism – something is only wrong if you think it is; Another taught that all that is real and meaningful can be discovered through science and reason; Another disregarded the importance of gender and love; Another reduced all of human experience to brain chemicals, denying the reality of the spirit (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 24-25).

         It is also readily apparent from Hostage to the Devil that not all demons are equal in power; there are stronger and weaker entities. This is also hinted at from the scriptures. When the apostles failed to cast out an evil spirit from a child, the Savior taught them, “this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Matt. 17:21, emphasis added), suggesting that the grade of demon they were dealing with was particularly powerful and therefore required more preparation.


Learning About the Kingdom of Darkness from the Hyde/Kimball/Richards Experience


         There are many documented experiences with evil forces which can be drawn from Church History. One experience of note happened while Elders Heber C. Kimball, Orson Hyde, and Willard Richards were on a mission together in England. A lengthy quote from The Life of Heber C. Kimball relating to the experience will be quoted here, after which it will be analyzed:


“Sunday, July 30th (1837), about daybreak, Elder Isaac Russell (who had been appointed to preach on the obelisk in Preston Square, that day), who slept with Elder Richards in Wilfred Street, came up to the third story, where Elder Hyde and myself were sleeping, and called out, ‘Brother Kimball, I want you should get up and pray for me that I may be delivered from the evil spirits that are tormenting me to such a degree that I feel I cannot live long, unless I obtain relief.’

“I had been sleeping on the back of the bed. I immediately arose, slipped off at the foot of the bed, and passed around to where he was. Elder Hyde threw his feet out, and sat up in the bed, and we laid hands on him, I being mouth, and prayed that the Lord would have mercy on him, and rebuked the devil.

“While thus engaged, I was struck with great force by some invisible power, and fell senseless on the floor. The first thing I recollected was being supported by Elders Hyde and Richards, who were praying for me; Elder Richards having followed Russell up to my room. Elder Hyde and Richards then assisted me to get on the bed, but my agony was so great I could not endure it, and I arose, bowed my knees and prayed. I then arose and sat up on the bed, when a vision was opened to our minds, and we could distinctly see the evil spirits, who foamed and gnashed their teeth at us. We gazed upon them about an hour and a half (by Willard’s watch). We were not looking towards the window, but towards the wall. Space appeared before us, and we saw the devils coming in legions, with their leaders, who came within a few feet of us. They came towards us like armies rushing to battle. They appeared to be men of full stature, possessing every form and feature of men in the flesh, who were angry and desperate; and I shall never forget the vindictive malignity depicted on their countenances as they looked me in the eye; and any attempt to paint the scene which then presented itself, or portray their malice and enmity, would be vain. I perspired exceedingly, my clothes becoming as wet as if I had been taken out of the river. I felt excessive pain, and was in the greatest distress for some time. I cannot even look back on the scene without feelings of horror; yet by it I learned the power of the adversary, his enmity against the servants of God, and got some understanding of the invisible world. We distinctly heard those spirits talk and express their wrath and hellish designs against us. However, the Lord delivered us from them, and blessed us exceedingly that day.”

Elder Hyde’s supplemental description of that fearful scene is as follows, taken from a letter addressed to President Kimball:

“Every circumstance that occurred at that scene of devils is just as fresh in my recollection at this moment as it was at the moment of its occurrence, and will ever remain so. After you were overcome by them and had fallen, their awful rush upon me with knives, threats, imprecations and hellish grins, amply convinced me that they were no friends of mine. While you were apparently senseless and lifeless on the floor and upon the bed (after we had laid you there), I stood between you and the devils and fought them and contended with them face to face, until they began to diminish in number and to retreat from the room. The last imp that left turned round to me as he was going out and said, as if to apologize, and appease my determined opposition to them, ‘I never said anything against you!’ I replied to him thus: ‘It matters not to me whether you have or have not; you are a liar from the beginning! In the name of Jesus Christ, depart!’ He immediately left, and the room was clear. That closed the scene of devils for that time.”

Years later, narrating the experience of that awful morning to the Prophet Joseph, Heber asked him what it all meant, and whether there was anything wrong with him that he should have such a manifestation.

“‘No, Brother Heber,’ he replied, ‘at that time you were nigh unto the Lord; there was only a veil between you and Him, but you could not see Him. When I heard of it, it gave me great joy, for I then knew that the work of God had taken root in that land. It was this that caused the devil to make a struggle to kill you.’

“Joseph then related some of his own experience, in many contests he had had with the evil one, and said: ‘The nearer a person approaches the Lord, a greater power will be manifested by the adversary to prevent the accomplishment of His purposes.’”

(Orson F. Whitney, The Life of Heber C. Kimball, p. 129-132).


         Some valuable things that can be learned from this significant story are: 1) evil spirits can make physical attacks under certain conditions, 2) There is a hierarchy among evil spirits, with “legions” and “leaders” evident, 3) Evil spirits appear “to be men of full stature, possessing every form and feature of men in the flesh” in their natural, guise-less form, 4) Evil spirits will do whatever they can in a last ditch effort to gain a foothold, as in this case when the retreating spirit sought Elder Hyde’s sympathy, and 5) Evil spirits work to unite against those who are doing the work of the Lord.


What Do Demons Look Like?


         While the Hyde/Kimball/Richards experience shows clearly that demons are in the form of people, as should be expected, they nevertheless seem to have the power to manifest themselves in diverse forms. “[T]here are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world,” the Lord tells us (D&C 50:2). Also, we know that, “Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14; 2 Ne. 9:9; D&C 128:20, 129:8) when his nefarious purposes require such a deceitful transformation. If devils can appear as luminous angels it seems natural that they can also appear in other forms as well. It also seems apparent from reports that demons manifest themselves in a variety of hideous forms, probably in an attempt to frighten or intimidate, or perhaps to better display the character of their black hearts. Reports have been made of these unclean spirits appearing in the form of children, old people, “shadow men,” grotesque creatures, and even the classic horned devil so typical in medieval art (for examples see, for instance, Hostage to the Devil, or the Discovery Channel television series A Haunting). It may be that other strange phenomena, such as Point Pleasant, West Virginia’s “Mothman,” are a manifestation of these false spirits. Therefore, while demons look like people, they apparently have the power to transform themselves into a myriad of awful forms. Of course the reason the devils did not appear to Elders Kimball, Richards, and Hyde in a disguised form is because, having prayed, the Lord opened a vision to their eyes of the true form of the demons attacking them.


Concentration of Power – A Theory behind Hauntings


         The awful and frightening reality is that unclean spirits, or demons, are everywhere around us daily. The Gospel Principles manual printed by the Church confirms this: “Satan and his followers are also on the earth, but as spirits. They have not forgotten who we are, and they are around us daily, tempting us and enticing us to do things that are not pleasing to our Heavenly Father” (Gospel Principles, 2009 ed., p. 16). In this connection, President Brigham Young taught:

“I know very well that, whether we are active or not, the invisible spirits are active. And every person who desires and strives to be a Saint is closely watched by fallen spirits that came here when Lucifer fell, and by the spirits of wicked persons who have been here in tabernacles and departed from them, but who are still under the control of the prince of the power of the air. Those spirits are never idle; they are watching every person who wishes to do right, and are continually prompting them to do wrong. This makes it necessary for us to be continually on our guard—makes this probation a continual warfare.”

(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 7:239, September 1, 1859).

         While this is true, we are almost always completely oblivious to the presence of demons. It seems apparent, however, that the demons’ power can become concentrated in a place or upon a person, and their frightening power be manifested, in which case the presence of the demon(s) constitutes a haunting. At this point, it requires great faith and prayer to expel the demons.

         Spirits often become concentrated in a place by entering through what is considered to be a portal or a gateway that is imperceptible to regular human beings, but may be opened through the mischievous actions of humans. The exact nature or location of such gateways varies, but they often seem to be at the heart of haunting problems. This author can find no indication that the mere discussion of the subject of evil spirits invites their power to take hold, but it does seem apparent that evil acts may sometimes do this. Things that have a propensity to allow for devils to concentrate their power upon a place or person are participating in mischief such as witchcraft, voodoo, Satanic rituals, Ouija boards, and perhaps séances. Those who participate in these things are condemned in scripture as “sorcerers” and will go to hell when they die unless they repent (D&C 76:103, 84).

         Other times a gateway may be opened when a horrible act, such as a murder, was committed in a place. In the case of murder, it may be that the haunting is due to restless spirits, or ghosts, who are unable to come to terms with their fate. Other times, however, a haunting in a place where an evil act such as murder has occurred is due to a doorway to hell being opened as a result of the evil deed, and demons take free reign.

         Other times it seems that demons will spontaneously appear simply to thwart the work of the Lord. This happened in Kirtland in 1831, which eventually spawned Section 50 of the Doctrine & Covenants, and it happened to missionaries to England such as Orson Hyde, Heber C. Kimball, and Wilford Woodruff.


How Do We Detect Unclean Spirits?


         An important part of protecting against unclean spirits is learning the signs of their presence. How do we know when we have an evil spirit present in our home, or if we have an encounter with a spirit entity, how do we know if it is from God or the Devil? There happens to be important instruction relative to this matter in the scriptures. Section 50 of the Doctrine & Covenants deals with a manifestation of “false spirits” which had been troubling members of the Church in Kirtland. An introduction to a study of this section of scripture reads:


Parley P. Pratt, in his Autobiography, says that, as he went forth among the different branches of the Church, he saw some very strange spiritual operations. Some persons would seem to swoon away and make unseemly gestures, and be drawn and disfigured in their countenances. Others would fall into ecstasies and be drawn into contortions, cramps, fits, etc. Others claimed to have visions and revelations. All these things had developed since Elder Pratt left for his mission to the Lamanites and before the arrival of the Prophet Joseph in Kirtland. On account of these strange phenomena, Parley P. Pratt, John Murdock, and several other Elders asked the Prophet to inquire of the Lord concerning these manifestations. They all united in prayer in the translating room of the Prophet, and this Revelation was received after the prayer. In it the Lord (1) warns them against false spirits, deception, and hypocrisy (1-9); (2) gives instructions on how to discern between false and true spirits (10-36); (3) gives personal directions to some of the Elders and encouragement to all (37-46). 

(Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, p. 289-290).


         The revelation itself, D&C Section 50, gives very important instruction relative to detecting evil spirits:


Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world.

…And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. 

That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. 

And again, verily I say unto you, and I say it that you may know the truth, that you may chase darkness from among you;

(Doctrine & Covenants 50:2, 23-25).


         What this scripture tells us is that if a spiritual manifestation, whether seen or unseen, does not have the effect of edifying us, but rather frightens or confuses us even after enquiring of the Lord over the matter, then it is “not of God, and is darkness” (D&C 50:23).

         Likewise, the Doctrine & Covenants also give us further instruction on how to tell if a ministering spirit is from the presence of God or the Devil. It reads:


When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you. 

If he be an angel [i.e. resurrected person] he will do so, and you will feel his hand. 

If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect [i.e. a good disembodied spirit, or ghost, who is sent from God] he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—

Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message. 

If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him. 

These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God.

(Doctrine & Covenants 129:4-9).


         It seems that evil spirits will be compelled to attempt to shake hands when this instruction is followed. This is no doubt part of the strange and unique “bounds, limits, and laws by which [wicked spirits] are governed or controlled” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 208).

         In addition to these methods, God also offers us the spiritual gift of “discerning of spirits,” (D&C 46:23; 1 Cor. 12:5-6) and also the gift of knowing by the Holy Ghost the “differences of administration” (D&C 46:15; 1 Cor. 12:10; Moro. 10:8). In fact, it is actually a spiritual gift to have “the beholding of angels and ministering spirits” (Moro. 10:14) because ministering spirits from God are not always visible. As far as the gift of discerning of spirits, the Prophet made particular mention of it in reference to discerning between good and evil spirits. He said, “A man must have the discerning of spirits before he can drag into daylight this hellish influence and unfold it unto the world in all its soul-destroying, diabolical, and horrid colors” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 205). These spiritual gifts may be an abiding gift with a person throughout their life, if it is explicitly mentioned in their patriarchal blessing, but may also be available to all the faithful when necessary.

         But how can a person be sure of a demonic haunting, or of a demonic possession? In the case of demonic possession, how do we know that the problem is not simply a combination of physical and mental illness? For centuries ill people have been mistaken for being demonically possessed. While these possibilities must be carefully considered, the spiritually alert should readily be able to tell when there is a demonic influence both by their spiritual feelings on the matter and the signs manifested in the circumstance. There are many practical signs a person can look for in judging whether a spiritual manifestation is demonic. Demonic hauntings are often accompanied by unexplainable foul smells, the sound of scurrying rats (when no rats are in the house), inexplicable changes in temperature, unexplainable noises, shaking beds, objects moving spontaneously, as well as other similar strange and unholy symptoms. Malachi Martin noted that in the case of possessions, the hauntings are accompanied by strange phenomena such as:


...objects fly around the room; wallpaper peels off the walls; furniture cracks; crockery breaks; there are strange rumblings, hisses, and other noises with no apparent source. Often the temperature in the room where the possessed person happens to be will drop dramatically. Even more often an acrid and distinctive stench accompanies the person.

(Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 10).


         Below is a description from Hostage to the Devil about signs of diabolical possession, although some of the following phenomena below listed, such as freezing temperature and spontaneous opening and slamming of doors, are often also present in other cases of haunting, as in when a place is haunted, and not necessarily a person being possessed:


...a peculiar revulsion to symbols and truths of religion is always and without exception a mark of the possessed person. In the verification of a case of possession by Church authorities, this “symptom” of revulsion is triangulated with other physical phenomena frequently associated with possession – the inexplicable stench; freezing temperature; telepathic powers about purely religious and moral matters; a peculiarly unlined or completely smooth or stretched skin, or unusual distortion of the face, or other physical and behavioral transformations; “possessed gravity” (the possessed person becomes physically immovable, or those around the possessed are weighted down with a suffocating pressure); levitation (the possessed rises and floats off the ground, chair, or bed; there is no physically traceable support); violent smashing of furniture, constant opening and slamming of doors, tearing fabric in the vicinity of the possessed, without a hand laid on them; and so on.

(Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 13).


         Elder Parley P. Pratt offered this guidance in determining when a person is possessed by an evil spirit. He wrote:


A person, on looking another in the eye, who is possessed of an evil spirit, will feel a shock – a nervous feeling, which will, as it were, make his hair stand on end: in short, a shock resembling that produced in a nervous system by the sight of a serpent.

Some of these foul spirits, when possessing a person, will cause a disagreeable smell about the person thus possessed which will be plainly manifest to the senses of those about him, even though the person thus afflicted should be washed and change his clothes every few minutes.

There are, in fact, most awful instances of the spirit of lust, and of bawdy and abominable words and actions, inspired and uttered by persons possessed of such spirits, even though the persons were virtuous and modest so long as they possessed their own agency.

Some of these spirits cause deafness, others dumbness, etc.

(Parley P. Pratt, Key to the Science of Theology, p. 117-118 as quoted in Duane S. Crowther, Life Everlasting, p. 120).


Demonic Possession


         Brigham Young said, “[evil spirits] are continually trying to get into the tabernacles of the human family, and are always on hand to prompt us to depart from the strict line of our duty.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 3:369, June 22, 1856). One of the ways in which demonic forces may gain control in the lives of mortals is to diabolically possess their bodies. That is, the unclean spirit(s) actually reside in and control their target person. This phenomenon has occurred in all ages of the world. It is mentioned often in the New Testament, and is well documented in Church History. Demonic possession is one of the most frightening aspects of demonic haunting, and represents an attack by unclean spirits on the most personal level possible – the invasion of one’s body.

         Unclean spirits are jealous of the fact that we have bodies. They will even inhabit the bodies of animals if they are able (Moses 4:6; Matt. 8:31-32). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man, and when cast out by the Savior he asked to go into the herd of swine, showing that he would prefer a swine’s body to having none” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 181).


The Process of Possession


         What is the process of possession? How does it happen? Martin’s Hostage to the Devil provides a very well-researched analysis of this phenomenon. Martin writes, “usually before either the target of possession or those near him are aware of it, the actual process of possession has begun” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 435). It seems apparent that often times the devils will approach their hosts while they are yet young to make their vague offering of possession (ibid.). Probably this is due to the fact that younger people or children will be less aware of the forces they are dealing with, and also because the demons are looking for a long-term habitation. More often than not it seems that the process of possession is well-planned and drawn out over years, rather than being an entirely short-term and isolated occurrence. As Martin points out, “while the process may be swift, more often it seems to take years to accomplish” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 436). The process of possession is defined by four stages, as coined by the Catholic priest Father Conor, a friend of Malachi Martin’s and a very experienced exorcist. The stages are 1) entry point, 2) erroneous judgments, 3) voluntary yielding of control, and 4) perfect possession (ibid.).

         In the first stage, entry point, the evil spirit enters the target person “and a decision, however tenuous, is made by the victim to allow that entry” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 436). “The first stage, the actual entry of Evil Spirit and the beginning of its personal influence within a person, appears always to be made by means of the spirit’s knowledge of a trait of character or of some special interest or of some avocation of the victim” (ibid., p. 437). That is, evil spirits will see weaknesses in people or specific character traits that they can prey on, and capitalize on these opportunities. Of course, the evil spirits in this initial stage do not reveal their true identity and purpose, and may not even make an actual appearance to their target person, but will seek to reassure them, fascinate them, console them, or do whatever is required to gain acceptance from the target host.

         During the second stage, erroneous judgments, “the victim makes a series of practical personal judgments that profoundly alter him and prepare him for the next critical stage, when he will yield control....Through this process, the original strength, beauty, and idealism of the individual are slowly, piece by piece, turned upside down” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 438). “Each [of the target persons] felt an eerie ‘pressure’ to allow ‘someone else’ to give them directives; and that ‘someone else’ was ‘inside’ them in some way or other…Once they yielded, they started to receive ‘instructions’ – ready-made judgments and attitudes arose in them, even words on their lips and actions in their limbs” (ibid., p. 439).

         In the third stage, voluntary yielding of control, “expansion of the diabolic control is dramatic and rapid….It puts the possessed on their guard against circumstances, people, places, and objects closely associated with God and Jesus. It will lead the possessed to avoid situations that constitute a threat to the possessing power of Evil Spirit” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 440). In this stage there is “an ever-growing sense of loss of self-control, even to the point of a loss of awareness of one’s actions” (ibid., p. 440-441).

         In the fourth and final stage of the process of demonic possession, called perfect possession, is when the evil spirit has complete control and there is no longer any free will able to be exercised by the possessed person. Martins states, “no exorcism would be requested for such a person; and even if attempted, without at least the partial will of the possessed it probably could not succeed” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 441).

         How are victims of possession chosen? It is impossible to know all the methods of evil spirits and their rationale in choosing their hosts. When asked during an exorcism why the entities sought to inhabit this particular person, an evil spirit responded through the mouth of the possessed person, “He was chosen before he was born” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 435). It seems apparent that this certain individual was singled out as a target for demonic possession while he was still in the preexistence, probably during the final desperate stages of the War in Heaven. This is not necessarily the case with each victim of possession, however. Certainly there are cases of opportunistic possessions, in which evil spirits will without so much prior planning recognize an opening by which they can initiate possession. More will be discussed later about how a person might find power to avoid trouble with evil spirits.


The Stages of Expulsion of Possessing Demonic Forces


         This next section deals with the stages involved in the expulsion of evil spirit(s) from a possessed individual, as it is routinely observed in Catholic exorcisms. It should be borne in mind that when individuals casting out evil spirits have real priesthood authority found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the process is much simpler and shorter. But with Catholic exorcisms, it is quite an arduous process/ritual with a predictable pattern. The process from the point of view of the Catholic priest will herein be discussed.

         The stages of expulsion, as coined once again by Martin’s friend and highly experienced exorcist Father Conor, are: 1) Presence, 2) Pretense, 3) Breakpoint, 4) Voice, 5) Clash, and finally, 6) Expulsion (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 17).

         In the first stage, Presence, “From the moment the exorcist enters the room, a peculiar feeling seems to hang in the very air. From that moment in any genuine exorcism and onward through its duration, everyone in the room is aware of some alien Presence” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 17). 

         In the second stage, Pretense, is the evil spirit’s attempt to fool the exorcists into thinking that nothing is actually wrong. “In the early stages of exorcism, the evil spirit will make every attempt to ‘hide behind’ the possessed, so to speak – to appear to be one and the same person and personality with its victim” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 18). The exorcist must break through the Pretense in order for the exorcism to have effect. This can take time, sometimes days (ibid., p. 18).

         In the third stage, Breakpoint, the Pretense is broken through and the behavior of the possessed person becomes violent and repulsive (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 19). It is also at this point that the exorcist experiences a disorienting confusion of the senses. Martin reports, “A new hallmark of the proceedings enters as the Breakpoint nears, and ushers in one of the more subtle sufferings the exorcist must undergo: confusion. Complete and dreadful confusion. Rare is the exorcist who does not falter here for at least a moment, enmeshed in the peculiar pain of apparent contradiction of all sense” (ibid.). In the Breakpoint, “The voice of the possessed is no longer used by the spirit, though the new, strange voice may or may not issue from the mouth of the victim” (ibid., p. 20). Also in this stage, the evil spirit speaks of the possessed person in the third person, rather than attempting to associate itself with the person.

         In the fourth stage, called Voice, there arises “an inordinately disturbing and humanly distressing babel….You are just straining to pick up the word and a layer of cold fear has already gripped you – you know this sound is alien. But your concentration is shattered and frustrated by an immediate gamut of echoes, of tiny prickly voices echoing each syllable, screaming it, whispering it, laughing it, sneering it, groaning it, following it” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 20). Martin says, “If the exorcism is to proceed, the Voice must be silenced….The priest must get himself under control and challenge the spirit first to silence and then to identify itself intelligibly” (ibid.).

         In the fifth stage, Clash, “There is a two-way communication that is as real as a conversation using words. The Clash is the heart of a special and dreadful communication, the nucleus of this singular battle of wills between exorcist and Evil Spirit” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 21). It is during the conversation associated with the Clash that the exorcist seeks to extract the name which the evil spirit(s) go by, as this is crucial to the Catholic exorcism, giving the priest power over the evil spirit to cast it out (ibid.). “the more an evil spirit can be forced to reveal in the Clash and its aftermath, the surer and easier will be the Expulsion” (ibid.). However, in all this conversation, there is great danger for the exorcist. If he allows himself to be taken off topic, or swayed into peripheral topics, which can easily happen, and which the evil spirit will attempt to do, then he may come under the power of the evil spirit and perhaps the exorcism will fail.

         The final stage, Expulsion, is when the evil spirit permanently leaves the body of the possessed person. Their behavior returns to normal at this point, and they are no longer hateful/sensitive to religious objects or concepts. After an exorcism, “Sometimes the former victim will remember much of what he has been through; sometimes he will remember nothing at all.” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 23).


Types of Possession


         Evidently there is more than one kind of demonic possession. The typical kind involves an evil spirit seeking to gain control directly over a person’s body and actions. There is another kind, however, that seems quite unique, called “familiarization.” Familiarization is when the evil spirit seeks to link itself indirectly, like an invisible friend that only the target person can see and interact with. Martin describes familiarization as follows:


“Familiarization” is a type of possession in which the possessed is not normally subject to the conditions of physical violence, repugnant smells and behavior, social aberrations, and personal degeneracy that characterize other forms of possession.

The possessing spirit in “familiarization” is seeking to “come and live with” the subject. If accepted, the spirit becomes the constant and continuously present companion of the possessed. The two “persons,” the familiar and the possessed, remain separate and distinct. The possessed is aware of his familiar. In fact, no movement of the body, no pain or pleasure, and no thought or memory occur that is not shared with the familiar. All privacy of the subject is gone; his very thoughts are known; and he knows continually that they are known by his familiar. The subject himself can even benefit from whatever prescience and insight his familiar enjoys.

(Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 260).


         Presumably the end result of either form of possession is the same – domination and control by the evil spirit.


The Possessed


         The process of possession creates a grave transformation of the possessed individual - not only behaviorally, but sometimes physically, particularly at the point of exorcism. This is not just a Hollywood stereotype of exorcisms, although movies display transformation in the possessed, they do tend to exaggerate the transformation. Regarding possessed persons, Malachi Martin explains,


Their consciousness seems completely colored by the violent sepia of revulsion. Reflexes sometimes become sporadic or abnormal, sometimes disappear for a time. Breathing can cease for extended periods. Heartbeats are hard to detect. The face is strangely distorted, sometimes also abnormally tight and smooth without the slightest line or furrow.

(Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 10-11).


         Other physical or behavioral abnormalities may occur from case to case, depending on the methods of the evil spirit and its avenue of character exploitation. For instance, in Hostage to the Devil, an evil spirit which called itself “Smiler” inhabited a young woman who seemed to always have a pervasive unconscious smile by nature. During the exorcism, the possessed woman’s smile became inhumanly distorted (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 29-82).
         Other behaviors of possessed people during exorcism are to speak in languages that they have no knowledge of. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Again it may be asked, how it was that they could speak in tongues if they were of the devil. We would answer that they could be made to speak in another tongue, as well as their own, as they were under the control of that spirit” (Joseph Smith,
Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 213), and, “The devil can speak in tongues; the adversary will come with his work; he can tempt all classes; can speak in English or Dutch” (ibid., p. 162).

         During the exorcism the possessed person will spew forth the most unimaginable profanity and sacrilege. Anything holy will be mocked and spoken of in perverse and unspeakable sacrilegious contexts. This is one of the most distracting methods employed by the possessing evil spirits. The evil spirit will also seek to befuddle, confuse, and demoralize the exorcist and his assistants with its array of false teaching mixed with profanity.

         Sometimes frightening phenomena such as levitation occurs in exorcisms. Oftentimes the possessed person is physically aggressive, necessitating the use of assistants to keep them restrained. Sometimes objects fly around the room during exorcism.


The Exorcist


         Exorcism, especially when attempted without the power of the priesthood, is an extremely dangerous venture. The exorcist risks much in performing an exorcism – his physical well-being, his spiritual well-being, his sanity, his peace of mind, and indeed his soul. Malachi Martin says of the exorcist,


He has nothing personal to gain. But in each exorcism he risks literally everything that he values…every exorcist must engage in a one-to-one confrontation, personal and bitter, with pure evil. Once engaged, the exorcism cannot be called off. There will and must always be a victor and a vanquished. And no matter what the outcome, the contact is in part fatal for the exorcist. He must consent to a dreadful and irreparable pillage of his deepest self. Something dies in him. Some part of his humanness will wither from such a close contact with the opposite of all humanness – the essence of evil; it is rarely if ever revitalized. No return will be made to him for his loss. 

This is the minimum price an exorcist pays. If he loses in the fight with Evil Spirit, he has an added penalty. He may or may not ever again perform the rite of Exorcism, but he must finally confront and vanquish the evil spirit that repulsed him.

(Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 10).


         One of the most frightening aspects of being an exorcist without priesthood authority is that the exorcist may suffer from harassments from the evil spirit he fought against later in his life. And if there is any failure on the exorcist’s part, he must still finally face the frightening unclean spirit at the time of his death – it will be there to torment him (ibid).


Casting Out Evil Spirits - The First Miracle of the Church


         In case some may be tempted to think, in order to settle their mind as to these frightening matters, that our Church does not put stock in such things as demonic possession, we will look at a case from Church history. Though not usually referred to as “exorcisms,” in order to avoid the implication of a Catholic-style elaborate ritual, there are well-documented cases of the casting out of evil spirits in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In fact, the first miracle of the Church was the casting out of an unclean spirit by the Prophet Joseph Smith. He described the experience as follows:


Amongst those who attended our meetings regularly, was Newel Knight, son of Joseph Knight. He and I had many serious conversations on the important subject of man's eternal salvation. We had got into the habit of praying much at our meetings, and Newel had said that he would try and take up his cross, and pray vocally during meeting; but when we again met together, he rather excused himself. I tried to prevail upon him, making use of the figure, supposing that he should get into a mud-hole, would he not try to help himself out? And I further said that we were willing now to help him out of the mud-hole. He replied, that provided he had got into a mud-hole through carelessness, he would rather wait and get out himself, than to have others help him; and so he would wait until he could get into the woods by himself, and there he would pray. Accordingly, he deferred praying until next morning, when he retired into the woods; where, according to his own account afterwards, he made several attempts to pray, but could scarcely do so, feeling that he had not done his duty, in refusing to pray in the presence of others. He began to feel uneasy, and continued to feel worse both in mind and body, until, upon reaching his own house, his appearance was such as to alarm his wife very much. He requested her to go and bring me to him. I went and found him suffering very much in his mind, and his body acted upon in a very strange manner; his visage and limbs distorted and twisted in every shape and appearance possible to imagine; and finally he was caught up off the floor of the apartment, and tossed about most fearfully.

His situation was soon made known to his neighbors and relatives and in a short time as many as eight or nine grown persons had got together to witness the scene. After he had thus suffered for a time, I succeeded in getting hold of him by the hand, when almost immediately he spoke to me, and with great earnestness requested me to cast the devil out of him, saying that he knew he was in him, and that he also knew that I could cast him out.

I replied, “If you know that I can, it shall be done,” and then almost unconsciously I rebuked the devil, and commanded him in the name of Jesus Christ to depart from him; when immediately Newel spoke out and said that he saw the devil leave him and vanish from his sight. This was the first miracle which was done in the Church, or by any member of it; and it was done, not by man, nor by the power of man, but it was done by God, and by the power of godliness; therefore, let the honor and the praise, the dominion and the glory, be ascribed to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

This scene was now entirely changed, for as soon as the devil had departed from our friend, his countenance became natural, his distortions of body ceased, and almost immediately the Spirit of the Lord descended upon him, and the visions of eternity were opened to his view. So soon as consciousness returned, his bodily weakness was such that we were obliged to lay him upon his bed, and wait upon him for some time. He afterwards related his experience as follows:

“I now began to feel a most pleasing sensation resting on me, and immediately the visions of heaven were opened to my view. I felt myself attracted upward, and remained for some time enwrapt in contemplation, insomuch that I knew not what was going on in the room. By and by, I felt some weight pressing upon my shoulder and the side of my head, which served to recall me to a sense of my situation, and I found that the Spirit of the Lord had actually caught me up off the floor, and that my shoulder and head were pressing against the beams.”

All this was witnessed by many, to their great astonishment and satisfaction, when they saw the devil thus cast out, and the power of God, and His Holy Spirit thus made manifest. As may be expected, such a scene as this contributed much to make believers of those who witnessed it, and finally the greater part of them became members of the Church.

(Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:82-83).


How Common is Demonic Possession?


         It is probably assumed by the reader that demonic possession is an extremely rare phenomenon which barely ever happens at all. While possession is not an everyday experience by any means, one sense a reader gets from reading Hostage to the Devil is just how shockingly common demonic possession really is, even in our modern world. For instance, one person in the process of possession had a boss at work that also happened to be possessed (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 279-280). What are the odds of that? In fact, in our modern times, no doubt demonic possession is oftentimes mistaken for simple mental illness. Of course, mental illness is a genuine answer for much erratic behavior, and obviously not everyone who is mentally ill is under the influence of demons. But no doubt many real cases of demonic possession fly under the radar because of our modern-day preoccupation with naturalistic/medical explanations. And many of the symptoms of demonic possession are paralleled in disorders of mental illness.

         The missionary experiences of young Joseph F. Smith in Hawaii quoted below highlight the frequency of demonic possession, which according to Joseph F. Smith, “frequently occurred”:


Joseph F. was assigned to the Island of Maui, to labor in company with his cousin, Silos Smith, Smith B. Thurston and Washington B. Rogers. He was assigned to Kula, the place where President Geo. Q. Cannon first introduced the gospel to the Hawaiian race. He pursued the study of the language with much diligence and faith, soon being able to bear witness that “by the gift of God, as well as by study,” were the words of Brother Pratt concerning his acquisition of the language verified; his experiences brought him near to the Lord. Relative to the manifestations of the Spirit to him he says: “Of the many gifts of the Spirit which were manifest through my administration, next to my acquirement of the language, the most prominent was perhaps the gift of healing, and by the power of God, the casting out of evil spirits which frequently occurred.” One instance occurred at Wailuku, where he sojourned with a native family, being engaged in the study of the language. One night the woman was suddenly seized with evil spirits. She went through all manner of hideous contortions. Her husband was overcome with such fear that he trembled as a leaf in the wind. Brother Joseph F. was seized with fear at this new and unexpected demonstration, but suddenly all fright left him, the power of the Holy Ghost rested upon him, and he stood upon his feet, facing the woman possessed of demons. “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I rebuke you,” he said, when suddenly the woman fell limp to the floor and became as one dead. The husband pronounced her dead, and then set up a hideous howl, which Joseph F. promptly rebuked, after which quiet and peace was restored and the young missionary proceeded with his studies. Joseph F. labored upon the island of Maui over eighteen months with great success.

(Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols.).


Is the Priesthood Necessary to Cast Out Evil Spirits?


         With an understanding of the authority of the priesthood, it seems reasonable to expect that the priesthood is necessary to cast out an evil presence from a person or home. Many have assumed this, and not without warrant. However, the vast number of documented cases showing successful exorcisms by clergy who do not have the true priesthood (Martin’s Hostage to the Devil being an example) suggests that the priesthood is not in fact required to cast out evil spirits, though it is much preferred. Rather, it seems that sometimes the faith and prayers of well-meaning clergy or of desperate victims of spiritual attacks, and the sincere invocation of the name of Christ, is sometimes sufficient to cast out evil spirits.

         Joseph Smith said, “it is very evident that they [wicked spirits] possess a power that none but those who have the Priesthood can control, as we have before adverted to, in the case of the sons of Sceva” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 208). At first this might suggest that only those with the priesthood can cast out unclean spirits. But when one considers how people of other faiths are often successful in casting out evil spirits, we must consider the quote in a different light. Indeed, further conclusive evidence has come from the Prophet which indicates that priesthood is not necessary to cast out evil spirits, when he taught, “No matter who believeth, these signs such as healing the sick, casting out devils, etc. should follow all that believe, whether male or female” (Joseph Smith, The Words of Joseph Smith, p. 115, punctuation altered). Of course, women cannot hold the priesthood, and yet according to this statement they may be privileged to cast out evil spirits by their faith. The phrase “none but those who have the Priesthood can control [evil spirits]” must mean then, that only those with the priesthood may safely control the evil spirits, while others who attempt to do so may be placing themselves in great peril. One need only consider the toll an exorcism takes on a Catholic exorcist without priesthood authority, and the length the exorcism can draw out for, without the awesome power and authority of the priesthood.

         Another instance which undermines the notion that priesthood authority is necessary to cast out devils is the case of Wilford Woodruff's mentor, Robert Mason. Wilford Woodruff spoke about his friend, “the old prophet” Robert Mason, who “came the nearest to being a true Prophet of God in his predictions and works of any man I ever saw, until I saw men administering in the holy Priesthood.” (Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 4:100).

         Wilford Woodruff reported that Mason could cast out devils, although the Mason frankly admitted to Wilford that he had “no right to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel”:


He also cast out devils in the name of Jesus Christ, by the laying on of hands and the prayer of faith. “But,” said he, “I have no right to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel, neither has any man unless he receives it by revelation from God out of heaven, as did the ancients. But if my family or friends are sick, I have the right to lay hands upon them, and pray for them in the name of Jesus Christ, and if we can get faith to be healed, it is our privilege; and I will here say that many were healed through his faith and prayers, and that, too, within my knowledge.”

(Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 4:100, October 6, 1856).

         The interesting part about this statement is that while Robert Mason was able to cast out evil spirits, he also denied having any authority to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel. From this we can see that priesthood authority, while especially helpful with casting out evil spirits, is not an absolute prerequisite.

Can Unclean Spirits Harm You?


         As we have already seen from the Hyde/Kimball/Richards experience above, demons are under certain conditions able to make physical attacks upon human beings. Some may question, however, whether unclean spirits have the power to prevail upon humans to the point of inflicting serious physical harm. In answer to this question, we need only consider how the Prophet Joseph Smith almost lost his life to a demonic attack just prior to his First Vision. The Prophet relates how his life was almost extinguished at that time:


After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound.

(Joseph Smith – History 1:15-17).


         There is more evidence that unclean spirits, under certain conditions, can gain the power to inflict serious bodily harm. Brigham Young assured us that, “It is in this world only he [the devil] has power to cause affliction and sickness, pain and distress, sorrow, anguish, and disappointment” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 3:95, August 8, 1852). Even though spirits are normally intangible, their power can be concentrated in certain circumstances so as to move tangible objects or even lash out as unseen forces and hurt people. Consider again how this was done in the Hyde/Kimball/Richards experience, as well as that of prior to Joseph Smith’s First Vision. In addition to these, Wilford Woodruff had an experience where he was attacked by unclean spirits while on a mission, and he later reported, “I knew we would die unless God opened some door for our deliverance” (Wilford Woodruff, Collected Discourses, vol. 5, Oct 5 1896).

         It seems that the priesthood offers some protection to those who face these demons. The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “it is very evident that they [wicked spirits] possess a power that none but those who have the Priesthood can control, as we have before adverted to, in the case of the sons of Sceva” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 208). That is not to say that the priesthood is always necessary to expel demons, but the priesthood makes it safer to confront evil spirits; nevertheless it is still a serious and probably dangerous venture. Why is approaching evil spirits without priesthood authority dangerous? We can recall that the sons of Sceva referred to by the Prophet also endured a physical attack, and this primarily because they invoked the power of God without actually holding his holy priesthood. The scriptural record declares:


Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

(Acts 19:13-16).

          Recall that when Joseph Smith almost lost his life to a demonic attack just prior to the First Vision, it was only his continuance in the prayer that spared his life. He said, “But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction… I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head” (Joseph Smith – History 1:16). The following experience shared by Wilford Woodruff highlights the importance of prayer in protection against evil spirits.


The incident that I am going to refer to now occurred after Brother Kimball had returned to Manchester. Brother George A. Smith and myself were left there. We sat up one night till about 11 o’clock, talking about the Gospel of Christ, and then went to bed. The room in which we slept was small; there was about three and a half feet between our cots. Those spirits were gathered together in that room and sought to destroy us. They fell upon us with the determination to take our lives. 

The distress, the suffering and the horror that rested upon me I never experienced before nor since. While in this condition a spirit said to me, “Pray to the Lord.” Well, a man in that kind of warfare, when he is choking almost to death, is in a peculiar position to pray. Nevertheless I went to praying with all the power I had. I knew we would die unless God opened some door for our deliverance, because we were being choked to death, and I prayed the Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ, to preserve our lives. While I was praying, the door opened and three messengers entered, and the room was filled with light equal to the blazing light of the sun at mid-day. Those messengers were all dressed in the robes of immortal beings. Who they were I know not. They laid hands upon me and my companion, and rebuked those evil powers, and we were saved. From that hour to this day, not only our lives were saved, but those powers were rebuked by the angels of God so that no Elder since has been tormented with them in London.

(Wilford Woodruff, Collected Discourses, vol. 5, Oct 5 1896).


         In another documented instance in which one without priesthood authority received bodily harm from an evil spirit, a Catholic priest from one of the cases in Malachi Martin’s Hostage to the Devil made a grave mistake in departing from the Catholic-prescribed ritual. The priest was in an exorcism contending against an evil spirit which referred to itself as “Girl-Fixer,” which had a sexual fetish and had actually caused its possessed person to undergo a sex change while during the years he was under its nefarious influence. In frustration, the priest issued a personal challenge for the evil spirit to leave, rather than invoking God’s power. The result was that an unseen power brutally battered the priest physically and sexually, and this attack culminated in an early death for the priest (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 174-175, 227-228). Those dealing with evil spirits should take note to NEVER make a personal challenge to a demon. All of this demonstrates that it is dangerous to deal with unclean spirits without the power of the priesthood.


Can Evil Spirits Effect Children?

         One of the most disturbing questions regarding the forces of darkness are whether evil spirits have the ability to bother children. The scriptures tell us that children have some protections against the Devil: We are told that “power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me (D&C 29:47). And so children are spared from the Devil's wrath somewhat until they are eight years old, the age at which God holds them accountable for their decisions (D&C 68:25-27). 

         Nevertheless, it is apparent that children still suffer together with their families the horrors of demonic hauntings or ghost hauntings. They hear the strange rappings, noises, and footsteps. They see the sinister shadow figures. And they are vulnerable to being pestered by these dark forces. Consider the occasion when Jesus was presented with a mans son who was possessed of a “foul spirit,” also described as a “dumb and deaf spirit” (Mark 9:25). Jesus asked the father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?” The father answered, “Of a child” (Mark 9:21). 

How Do We Avoid Problems With Unclean Spirits?


         There are several things a person can do to avoid problems with unclean spirits. Certainly the most effective are those which the Church encourages us to do in our homes: scripture study, regular family home evening, family religious discussion, and perhaps most importantly, family and personal prayer. It seems that prayer is one of the single most powerful tools against evil spirits. 

         The scriptures say, “it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray” (2 Ne. 32:8, emphasis added). Recall from above that Wilford Woodruff, when suffering a demonic attack, was inspired with the heavenly message, “Pray to the Lord,” by which action he found his deliverance (Wilford Woodruff, Collected Discourses, vol. 5, Oct 5 1896). Satan wants to interfere with prayer because this simple communication with God our Father is such a powerful help against the forces of darkness. “Pray always,” the scriptures tell us, “that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work” (D&C 10:5).

         As for demonic possession, there are no clear answers as to who is a candidate for it. It is clear, however, according to Martin, that such victims always, in one form or another, submit or consent to the possession, whether they realize what it actually is or not (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 437). And it is apparent, from one of the cases in Hostage to the Devil, that there are some places or types of people which evil spirits cannot possess. Straight from the mouth of a familiar type of possessing spirit, the unclean spirit said to his host while driving past a community upon some hills in California, “There’s no welcome for me up there in spite of their boozing and b**ching and despair” (Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 252). For some reason, there was no person there available in which that evil spirit could unlawfully attach to another person, and the unclean spirit openly lamented that fact to its present host. Why the evil spirit had “no welcome” among anyone there remains a mystery, however.

         As far as consenting to demonic possession, Martin affirms,


At some point during the earliest stage [of possession] there arrives a delicate moment when each person chooses to consider the particular offer [of possession] made to him or her. The exorcees in this report agree individually that they made such a choice, and that they had a sense of violating their consciences when they made it, though at the time in some cases it seemed a fairly minor violation.

(Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil, p. 437).


         And so while the possessed persons were not completely aware of what they were consenting to, in each case they do consent to the demonic control. It is not, and cannot, be forced upon them. In connection with this understanding, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “All men have power to resist the devil” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 189), and, “The devil has no power over us only as we permit him” (ibid., p. 181). We have the power to choose God over Satan, and this gives us power over, and safety from, these dark entities.

         Other things we can do to avoid trouble with unclean spirits, whether it be a haunting or possession, is to avoid mischief such as witchcraft, voodoo, séances, Satanic rituals, and Ouija boards. These things can potentially create a powerful gateway for unclean spirits. It is never wise to tamper with these forces.




         While the topic of the forces of darkness is frightening and quite negative, it nevertheless is helpful to come to some understanding of it so that we may know how to avoid it (not to mention why we should avoid it) and how to fight against it. The Prophet Joseph Smith himself taught us many insights about the kingdom of the Devil, so that we might be somewhat aware of how it operates. Let us therefore take our knowledge and strengthen ourselves against the evil that was cast out of heaven and which seeks our downfall. Even in the face of all the frightening evil, we can be optimistic because we have a true understanding of the plan of salvation and our identity, we have the authority of God vested in us in the form of the holy priesthood, and we have the opportunity to foster a relationship with a loving God who is the most powerful Being in the entire universe.



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